IT wasn't the pitching clinic that fans watched when Johan Santana and Josh Johnson squared off earlier this month, but the result was earily similar.
Neither starter hit the lofty heights they reached on April 12 in Florida and despite an early setback for Santana, he looked to have done enough to win.
Santana gave up two runs before the Mets ever came to bat, but he followed it with six shutout frames to give his bats enough time to rally from behind to get a 3-2 lead.
But the bullpen was not able to hold onto the lead, with JJ Putz giving up two runs in the 8th inning - the difference in Wednesday's 4-3 defeat.
Santana started the game with a nasty 83mph changeup to Emilio Bonafacio, but Cameron Maybin tripled off the centrefield wall, Wes Helms drove him home with a sacrifice fly and Santana missed with a fastball to Jorge Cantu who took him deep to left field.
The three-bagger to Maybin was the first extra-base hit he had given up to a right-hander this season. But the Mets hit straight back against Josh Johnson in the home half of the 1st inning.
Johnson left a pitch up and in to Jose Reyes who tripled to right field - the 10th consecutive game in which the Mets have hit a triple - and Alex Cora laid down a safety squeeze to score the shortstop.
Daniel Murphy, batting in the three-hole for the first time, bunted for a base hit himself the following batter, but Carlos Beltran flied out deep to Jeremy Hermida in left field and David Wright fanned yet again.
Murphy stole his first career base on a high 2-2 pitch as Ronny Paulino's throw sailed into centre field, but he as stranded one pitch later as Wright was caught looking.
The Mets had an immediate chance to tie the game in both the 2nd and 3rd inning, but Johnson - who owns a 1.59ERA and 5-0 record in six starts against the Mets - was able to shut the offense out.
In the 2nd inning, Fernando Tatis singled to right field and Ramon Castro sent one back up the middle to put runners on first and second with one out. Santana sacrificed both men over but Reyes grounded out to first base on a sharply-hit ball to end the inning.
The following inning Alex Cora went first-to-third on Beltran's base hit to centre, but Wright - who is batting .250 with runners in scoring position - chopped a one-hopper down to Helms at third base to start the 5-4-3 double play.
The Marlins loaded the bases in the 4th on the back of a walk, Wright fielding error and intentional walk, but it was Santana's turn to work around it with a strikeout and popup to keep the game at 2-1.
The Mets did draw things even in their half of the 4th inning. Fernando Tatis singled and stole second base and Ramon Castro hit a one-out single on a low fastball to make it 2-2.
Following an scoreless 5th inning, there was a light-hearted moment in the top of the 6th when Santana was on the mound, having given up a lead-off double to Hermida.
He struck out Paulino and got Cody Ross to pop up to bring up Alfredo Amezaga. Jerry Manuel had intentionally walked him last time up when there was a runner on second with two outs to get to Johnson.
Marlins manager Freddy Gonzalez brought out Ross Gload to pinch hit in an attempt to lure Manuel to pitch to Amezaga. But the Mets skipper was not buying any of the act, giving Amezaga the free pass.
Johnson came out to bat, Jerry Manuel smiled and, from the opposite dugout, Gonzalez shared the grin and tipped his hat at his opposite number.
The Mets took the lead for the first time in the game to lead off the bottom of the 6th when Fernando Tatis hit a home run to centre field. The Marlins challenged the ruling but replays confirmed the original ruling on the field that the ball had gone over the orange line at the top of the wall and had rebounded off the railings.
Santana pitched a perfect 1-2-3 7th inning to turn the lead over to the bullpen, but it was one of the only things Manuel did wrong.
Santana finished with a pair of runs on five hits, three walks - two intentionally - and seven strikeouts. But, as happened seven times last year, the Mets bullpen blew his lead and cost him a win.
Cantu and Hermida both walked and Paulino sacrified them over with a well-placed bunt. The walks came back to hurt the Mets when Cody Ross' single through the box beat the outstretched arm of Alex Cora to plate two runs and give the Marlins a 4-3 lead.
The Mets' 'anxiety' problem that Manuel spoke of after the loss on Tuesday reared its ugly head temporarily in the bottom of the 8th inning when the first two batters made outs on a combined three pitches.
Jeremy Reed, a defensive replacement as part of a double switch, tripled off the angled wall in right field, but the Mets could not bring him home.
Francisco Rodriguez kept the Marlins at bat in the top of the 9th, but despite two walks and a hit batter in the bottom of the inning, the Mets could not find a way to bring any of them in and they would leave them loaded to end the game.
Another 14 runners left on base. A bullpen loss similar to those experienced in 2008. In a game where Johan bent but did not break, it's a disappointing way to lose the rubber match and it means they will head to Philly on Friday on the back of two losses.
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